With the South Beach Food & Wine Festival taking place over the weekend, Miami was a great place to be if you love food. It was also a good place to be if you love diplomacy. I enjoy the former but much prefer the latter. And it’s even better when you can combine the two. My weekend involved lunching with the former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda on Saturday, driving to Palm Beach on Sunday to interview former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and lunching with Miami’s entire diplomatic corps.
Jorge happened to be in town over the weekend and my friend Beatrice Rangel, the highly regarded international business executive, used the opportunity to bring together a few friends for a lunch on her Miami Beach terrace. The group was a mixture of people from around the Americas — Venezuela to Argentina to Mexico to Trinidad.
LONG WAY FROM RABAT
I last saw Jorge in Rabat last October at the German Marshall Fund’s Atlantic Dialogues. It was a great to catch up with him. We had great conversation about pressing issues in
the region and at one point we were passing around cell phones to show pictures of the demonstrations taking place in Venezuela at the time.
A big thanks to Beatrice, one of the first people to take me under her wing when I arrived in Miami a decade ago. It’s good to see her back in town. (Two weeks ago, she was my guest for the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations annual dinner.)
PALM BEACH VISIT
On Sunday, I drove to the Four Seasons in Palm Beach to interview Barak for an upcoming Miami Herald Issues & Ideas newsmaker Q&A. I reminded him that I was in Israel seven years ago when he was first appointed defense minister – after his time as Prime Minister.
We had intended to talk for about 25 minutes but our conversation stretched on for 40. We touched on an array of topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Haiti and Latin America. He was in town to speak at the American Friends of Magen David Adom, which supports MDA, Israel’s national emergency medical response and blood services organization. MDA was among the first outsiders on the ground in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.
CONSULAR CORPS LUNCH
On Monday, I attended the annual American Jewish Committee’s Consular Corps luncheon. The speaker was Rabbi David Rosen, the AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland. I
spent 10 minutes with him before the luncheon to talk about his recent meetings with Pope Francis and the pope’s planned trip to Israel in May. Rabbi Rosen has met the pope five times since he was inaugurated last March. Look for that conversation in the Miami Herald soon.
I’ve worked with young people around the world for a decade now, helping to empower them to seize the future. Many have created innovative projects on everything from reducing poverty to curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
I though the youths could benefit from listening to someone I have only recently come to know. His name: Komla Dumor. We met in October at the German Marshall Fund’s Atlantic Dialogues summit in Rabat. Komla gave a short speech to open the summit; I moderated the opening plenary and spoke at the group’s Emerging Leaders Forum. Komla and I hit it off instantly. A Ghanaian journalist who eventually settled in London, he became the face of the BBC in Africa. His latest job: presenter of Focus on Africa and European mornings on BBC World News TV.
We strategized on how the BBC and the Miami Herald could partner on coverage in specific areas. We were excited about executing an idea out of Ghana that will have impact with the Herald’s large Caribbean readership. I looked forward to visiting with him on my next trip to London. In the months since, we exchanged emails and followed each other’s activities on Twitter.
As I prepared to attend this month’s youth summit in Dakar, I thought Komla would be a terrific addition to the program. I emailed an invitation. Silence. I was surprised because I know how much he enjoys working with young people. I resent the invitation.
“I’m sorry for not responding quickly,” he wrote back, almost instantly. “I’m just a bit overwhelmed by a number of issues I’m dealing with.”
And he apologized for not being able to join me in Dakar. Last weekend, as I flew out of Dakar after the summit, came the most tragic of news: Komla Dumor was dead. Heart attack as he slept.
At just 41 years of age, Komla had made a success of his life but he had so much more living to do. And so many more lives to influence. I am saddened beyond words. I offer my deepest condolences to his wife and three children. He left us way too soon.
REST WELL, DEAR MURIEL
It’s an understatement to say the news of your passing shocked me to the core. You always seemed so full of life. And that’s regardless of where I’ve seen you — whether riding on a New York transit bus or on a presidential jet. Your passion was infectious; I know far more about early childhood education than I ever thought possible. Above all, you maximized each day, living as if tomorrow’s not promised. What a fearless heart!
When we launched the M&M Project, you embraced it with fury, although none of us was quite sure where it would lead. The time you spent with us was all too short. But who am I to question its length? I’m thankful for the precious hours, days, months and years. And like everyone you touched, I can proudly say that you were here.
Rest well, dear Muriel.
Hoping that everyone is able to find a seat a the table this Thanksgiving. This was the second World Desk show I did for the Miami Herald on a Thanksgiving Reader published by the American Jewish Committee. The goal is for everyone to celebrate our differences at Thanksgiving. My guest was Brian Siegal, the AJC’s director for Miami-Dade and Broward.
MISSION TO CARACAS
I’m looking forward to a relatively quiet weekend — a big change from two weeks ago. That’s when the Venezuelan government detained one of my staffers, Miami Herald Andean Bureau Chief Jim Wyss. Jim has written a great piece about how the detention happened, details of his treatment and what was occurring around him during the 48 hours he was in custody. Last week, Herald Executive Editor Aminda “Mindy” Marques Gonzalez wrote about the “full-court press” to secure Jim’s release as quickly as possible. As part of that effort, I was dispatched to Caracas to locate Jim and help speed up his release. What follows is Mindy’s account, which was published Nov. 17 in the Herald. I should note that the column is accurate but it doesn’t tell the full story. You might notice a few holes as you read it but we cannot — at this time — disclose the full scope of our efforts because it could put lives at risk.
A full-court press to release a Herald reporter
It was just before 7 a.m. when John Yearwood got the call.
Twelve hours earlier, he had heard from Jim Wyss as he prepared to wrap up his reporting trip to San Cristóbal in Venezuela, a border town with Colombia known for contraband, drug trafficking and intense politics.
Jim’s girlfriend, Ana Soler, was on the phone. Jim, she told Yearwood, was being held by the Bolivarian National Guard, an arm of the Venezuelan government, and he couldn’t leave.
“You never want to get that call,” said Yearwood, the Miami Herald World Editor. He has probably gotten two or three such calls during his past 10 years directing our coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean. Each instance was resolved quickly and quietly.
This time, at first, seemed to be simply a case of miscommunication.
“I thought they picked him up thinking he was a spy. I wanted to establish quickly [with Venezuelan authorities] that he was a journalist,” Yearwood said. “As we discovered, it was far more complicated.”
Wyss has traveled extensively in Venezuela as the Miami Herald’s Andean Bureau Chief for the past three years. Although there is an element of risk with almost any foreign assignment, Wyss has encountered relatively few during his travels, mostly a testament to his deep roots in the region after decades-long work as a journalist in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama and Mexico.
“Nine times out of 10, there are never any problems,” Wyss said. “I’ve never been through anything like this.”
Suddenly, we were confronting a rare and delicate situation: the detention of a veteran reporter in a foreign country without the protections of U.S. laws and processes. Complicating matters were the fragile and frayed relations between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments. Just last month, each country expelled three of each other’s diplomats.
Read the rest of the story here and let me know what you think.
I’ve recently returned from an extended visit to Europe. On many of these trips, I like to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like as I move around. This one deals with my planned travel from Vienna to Prague by train. While at the International Press Institute’s offices in Vienna, I asked Christiane Klint, membership manager, to book the trip to leave the following Sunday. She did and emailed me with instructions to pick it up at the station. When I arrived, the ticket office was closed and the machine didn’t recognize the reservation number. With the train scheduled to arrive in a few minutes, I pondered what to do. A guy buying a ticket suggested I get on the train and sort it out with the conductor. Seemed like a good idea.
I got on the train and took a first-class seat. As the train pulled away, the conductor entered my compartment. “Ticket please,” he said. I handed him my iphone showing email confirmation that the ticket had been purchased. He read it and without saying a word, turned around and left. Wasn’t quite sure what to make of that but I relaxed. So much so that I fell asleep. A knock on the door jolted me awake. It was a different conductor. “Ticket, please,” he said. I explained that I already told the other conductor that I didn’t have a printed ticket. “You are in the Czech Republic now and we don’t accept electronic ticket. Only paper ticket.”
This was not going to be easy. “Can I buy a ticket from you?” I asked, thinking that I can get a refund in Prague. He said yes and quoted me a price of 28 Euros. Another problem: The change kiosk near my hotel was closed as I left at 6 a.m. and I didn’t get Euros. “You accept American dollars or credit cards?” I asked. No, he said, “only Euros or crowns (Czech currency).” We steered at each other for maybe 30 seconds. Felt like an hour.
NO CROWNS IN THIS CAR
He pulled his iphone from a pocket and began tapping on the screen. I thought he was texting someone because he didn’t put it to his ear. “That would be $45,” he said. I prayed I had exact change; he had none. I handed him two 20s and five ones. His ticket machine hummed. He closed the cabin door as he left.
At the first stop inside the Czech Republic, I peered out the window and was stunned. The conductor, with a bag slung across his shoulder, appeared to be hurriedly walking from from the train. Was this a shakedown — or had I been dreaming?